For decades, Jews have been immigrating to the State of Israel from all parts of the universe: From Poland, Morocco, Russia, Iraq, Argentina, Hungary, Egypt, Ethiopia and many other countries.
A particularly exotic group of immigrants is expected to arrive in Israel soon: About 100 Jewish Indians living in a jungle on the banks of the Amazon River in Peru.
Their story begins towards the end of the 19th century. Young people with Jewish roots, mostly men, immigrated from Morocco to Peru and settled in Iquitos – a remote Indian city in the Amazon rainforest, considered one of the most isolated cities in the world to this very day. The areas can only be reached by boat or plane.
I’ve actually been to Iquitos. True, it’s accessible only by boat or plane (we arrived by one, left by the other), but it’s a thriving jungle metropolis nevertheless.
Now, I know why such terrific potato knishes when we were there! (Kidding, we didn’t. But we could have: Peru is the potato capital of the world!)
The men in the group – mostly young bachelors – maintained a Jewish lifestyle at first, but as time went by they married local Indian Christian women. Over the years, they had hundreds of offspring who knew about their Jewish roots, but because of their surroundings they found it difficult to adopt a Jewish lifestyle.
A couple of decades ago, a connection was made between the Jewish group in Iquitos and the Masorti Movement, which attempted to bring them to Israel. A small group of immigrants arrived in the Jewish state in the 1990s. Several years later, another group made aliyah. They all underwent Conservative conversion before immigrating.
The rest of the community members continued their life in Iquitos, some dreaming of immigrating to Israel one day and not forgetting their Jewish roots for a moment. They began adopting Jewish customs, marking Shabbat, praying at a local synagogue they built and requesting to be buried in a Jewish plot in the local cemetery. Mezuzahs and pictures of Stars of David can still be seen on many of the community members’ doors.
Twelve years ago, 250 of the community members underwent a Conservative conversion process – and continued to dream about Zion. Yedioth Ahronoth has learned that some 100 of them appealed to the Jewish Agency recently in a bid to fulfill their dream and immigrate to Israel.
The group members range in age from babies to people in their 80s. Some have kept their Jewish names, including Pinto, Levy and Abramovich.
Now all that remains is to wait for them and hope that they are absorbed in Israel as fast and as well as possible.
Now, that’s something I did not expect! File under Apartheid State Update.